Sally Louisa Tompkins was born into a wealthy family on November 9, 1833, at Poplar Grove in Matthews County, Virginia. Her father died when she was five years old, and then her mother moved the family to Richmond, Virginia. She lived there comfortably on her large inheritance until the beginning of the Civil War.
Sally Tompkins overcame traditional attitudes about women and provided much-needed care to Confederate troops.
The war resulted from many years of political tension between the Northern and Southern sections of the United States. The two halves of the country mainly disagreed about slavery and the power of the national government to regulate it. Many Northerners believed that slavery was wrong. Some people wanted to outlaw it, while others wanted to prevent it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But slavery played a big role in the Southern economy and culture. As a result, many Southerners felt threatened by Northern efforts to contain slavery. They believed that each state should decide for itself whether to allow slavery. They did not want the national government to pass laws that would interfere with their traditional way of life.
By 1861, this ongoing dispute had convinced several Southern states to secede from (leave) the United States and form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. But Northern political leaders were determined to fight to keep the Southern states in the Union. Tompkins's home state of Virginia was one of those that left the Union. Before long, Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy.
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